The Chris Kahui murder trial was jeopardised in the first week when a juror told friends at a pub that several members of the jury did not think Kahui killed his twin sons.
The Sunday Star-Times understands the Crown discussed whether this would force a mis-trial, but in the end the jury was just warned against discussing the case outside court and the trial continued.
The revelation has been described as unsettling by one criminal law expert. Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge said while it was a concern that some jurors thought Kahui was not guilty without hearing all the evidence, it was more alarming if the juror had been influenced by the people he or she discussed the case with.
"We do not want these cases being decided by what jurors hear in the pub," said Hodge. "This was obviously not a one-way conversation, so what were the friends saying back? `Go for it mate, she's the guilty one'?"
On May 22 Kahui, 23, was found not guilty of murdering three-month-old Chris and Cru in June 2006 after one of the shortest jury deliberations on record. There has been a public outcry that no one has been held responsible for the murders police have said the case is closed, despite urgings from the prime minister down to re-investigate.
The Star-Times understands the juror went to a Papakura pub after court during the six-week trial's first days. The twins' mother, Macsyna King, was giving evidence at the time. The juror told friends several members of the seven man and five woman jury did not believe Kahui was guilty.
One of those friends told a policeman about the pub conversation, and the officer alerted Crown prosecutors. The trial judge, Justice Geoffrey Venning, then warned the jury that it had to consider all evidence before deciding Kahui's fate, and that the case should not be discussed outside the jury room.
Crown prosecutor Simon Moore and head of the police investigation Detective Inspector John Tims declined to comment, but Hodge said the revelation could have been grounds for a mis-trial.
"This is pretty strong grounds for the judge to say enough, we are worried about the appearance of justice without any taint ... I am sure the judge would have given serious thought to that."
Hodge said it would not be grounds for the Crown to appeal given it knew about the incident but did not push for the trial to be aborted.
He suspected that jurors discussed cases "at a low level" with their families while trials were under way, but said he had greatest respect for the "institution of the New Zealand jury".
"Most of the time they work hard, listen to the evidence and conscientiously do their best at it. But this is quite exceptional, unsettling and unfortunate, especially when the public already has concerns about various aspects of the case."
The Star-Times understands the Kahui jury deliberated for just one minute not 10 minutes as previously reported. As soon as the jury was sent to deliberate, members were polled and everyone said Kahui was not guilty that took one minute. The jury then went to lunch and returned its verdict as soon as lunch was over.
- Sunday Star Times
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